After a stop-start debut season on Merseyside, Liverpool’s Naby Keita has it all to do in what could be a career-defining campaign for the Guinean international at Anfield.
Luck just hasn’t gone Keita’s way since his arrival in the Premier League from RB Leipzig in Germany. Over the last year, any time it’s looked like the midfielder was going to get a consistent run in the Liverpool first-team, an injury would occur.
It was between March and April this year when Keita began to show his best form. The Reds’ number 8 pushed Liverpool on in their quest for Premier League glory against Manchester City while also keeping their hopes of a sixth European Cup victory alive. He was providing the energy and line-breaking runs from midfield that Klopp’s side so often lacked. Keita also began to score some important goals during that period.
Yet, in the Champions League semi-final at Camp Nou, he suffered another injury after a poor challenge by Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic. That one finished his season off.
After being rushed back to play for Guinea at the AFCON, Keita, unsurprisingly, suffered another injury. Now, though, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp believes he could be coming into the season at close to full fitness.
Klopp was speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Norwich’s visit to Anfield tomorrow night. He discussed the difficulties Keita faced in his first year at the club
“[There were] ups and downs last year: could train, could not train, could train, could not train so he still is building the 100 per cent fitness of course,” Klopp said.
“He looks completely different, this pre-season looks completely different. He was now only the last two weeks in but you could see already that he’s much more settled in the team: completely different body language and everything is different.
“We expect a lot and he expects a lot and rightly so.”
Keita played well last Sunday in his substitute appearance against Manchester City in the Community Shield.
He will be hoping to be one of Klopp’s starting midfield trio for Friday night’s Premier League opener.
With Fabinho in his defensive midfield role, Keita and Jordan Henderson could be Klopp’s go-to players just in front of the Brazilian.
Keita, like Henderson, provides fantastic energy and looks to break the lines between midfield and attack whenever possible. This could be the perfect option for Klopp when playing newly-promoted sides like Norwich City.
Whatever team Klopp picks on Friday night, Keita will be confident of making a far greater impression on Merseyside in 2019/20 if he can maintain his fitness for most of the season.